Transparent Solar Spray-On Film SolarWindow
There was a time when there were all-green residential buildings. For example, Nomadic Mongolians used to cart their felt-and-wooden yurts around using four-wheeled wagons. Other communities used earthen roundhouses that were made of wattle, straw and mud; indigenous Americans and Spaniards had made perfect the art of adobe dwelling. Therefore, it can be said that prior to the Industrial Revolution, building materials for residential dwellings comprised of straw, mud, timbers, stone and various locally available ingredients. These homes could be described as having been sustainable by default. However, during and after the industrial revolution, residential homes which are cheap and energy-inefficient have become characteristic. Increased GHG emissions and the subsequent concerns about global warming have led to many homebuyers demanding greener homes. As such, there has been a need for home developers to look for cost-effective and sustainable means of delivering these green homes. This has led to the development of sustainable building technologies.
One such sustainable building technology that aims to ensure energy efficiency is the SolarWindow with Clear Spray-On Film. Developed by New Energy Technologies, the Spray-On Solar Film enables windows to generate solar energy without having to cloud the view. This material comprises of metal nanoparticles which are embedded in a transparent composite matrix that can easily be sprayed on. Different companies have put efforts at developing new solar cell technologies that allow for the fabrication of windows that generate energy. However, the SolarWindow provides a simpler alternative in that it is sprayed with an eco-friendly film that generates electricity, to produce energy. According to the company estimates, when this technology is applied to the facade of an office tower, the windows are capable of generating 300% more energy than solar panels which are mounted on the roof of a building (New Energy Technologies, 2013). The company states that the film replaces the block metal that is used in many solar panels to block visibility. The film is made up of eco-friendly compounds, and its thickness is 1/10th of the current thin films. This means that the window glass remains transparent and can generate electricity from both natural and artificial light. A prototype is shown in the figure below;
Fig 1. SolarWindow Prototype (Source: New Energy Technologies, 2013)
According to New Energy Technologies, these films have a performance capability that is ten times that of current solar film technologies. The film is usually sprayed over the smallest organic solar cells in the world. These cells are extremely small in size, tinier than a rice grain. This makes it possible for the energy-generating film to be applied at room temperature which results in inexpensive manufacturing. according to Dailey (2011), features such as versatility, transparency and eco-friendly compounds make it possible for the SolarWindow to be used in any kind of building; ranging from single family residential homes to office buildings and skyscrapers. Non-transparent and colorful solar cells and windows might be perfect for commercial structures but they are not usually the best when it comes to private homes and residential buildings. An uncolored see-through window such as the one offered by this technology means that buildings can have windows that are energy-generating, and at the same time do not sacrifice the access to natural daylight. In addition, windows are potentially more efficient and cheaper than traditional solar panels.
Potential Economic, Social and Environmental Impact
Buildings contribute heavily to the quality of life of people. About 90% of a person’s time is spent in buildings sleeping, living, resting or working. However, in their construction, maintenance, refurbishment, repair, use, demolition and disposal, buildings generate waste and consume resources and energy on an excessive scale that is unsustainable. According to Clark (2011), about 40 percent of the annual global consumption of energy and materials goes into buildings. In Australia, energy use in commercial and residential buildings accounts for about 40 percent of all energy related GHG emissions. This does include transport and fugitive fuels. Emissions associated with commercial buildings were projected to rise by 94 percent by the year 2010 in comparison to the 1990 levels. The increase of emissions from residential buildings was projected to rise by 17 percent (Clark, 2011). Therefore, the use of a sustainable building technology such as the Transparent SolarWindow could go a long way in correcting these trends. The technology has potential economic, social and environmental impacts in Australia.
Economically, the SolarWindow would have a great impact on the building industry as well as the economy of Australia. One of the pillars of green buildings is energy efficiency. The use of this technology delivers completely energy efficient buildings since it has the capability of generating 300% more energy than solar panels. Since solar energy is a renewable source of energy, this brings with it a number of cost benefits compared to the use of traditional building methods. These benefits include cheaper costs of operation such as energy bills, facility management costs, adaptability and flexibility of spaces, a more productive space, improved reputation, greater market visibility and lower staff turnover. For example, Umow Lai’s head office in Victoria reported significant energy usage and cost savings, as well as an increase in staff productivity levels. An occupant productivity study conducted in the building indicated that there was a 13 percent increase in staff productivity (Australia Unlimited, 2008). These findings are supported by Clark (2011), who observes that sustainable commercial buildings improve heating, daylighting, cooling and indoor air quality which makes workers more comfortable and thus more productive. In addition, sustainable buildings have a marketing edge since they offer reduced operating costs while at the same time offering an improved living or working environment. For example, in Australia green buildings get a lot of publicity and this makes it easier for developers to attract new buyers or tenants. Therefore, the economic benefits of the use of this sustainable building technology known as SolarWindow can be summed up as capital cost savings, greater tenant attraction, lower operating costs, increased property value and high return, enhanced marketability, increased productivity and competitive advantage.
Socially, the use of this technology has a number of benefits. First, it enhances the comfort and health of the building occupants. This technology ensures that there is improved daylighting which means that the occupants of the building have access to natural daylight. Improved daylighting, cooling and heating and indoor air circulation means that the occupants will be more comfortable in these buildings (Clark, 2011). As a result, such buildings create healthier places to live and work. The use of transparent windows in buildings also has other social benefits such as heightened aesthetic qualities. Such buildings are usually appealing and can become structures that people identify with. The technology also eliminates the need for the use of roof mounted solar panels which can be said to significantly reduce strain on the local infrastructure. Rather than fabricating solar panels, existing windows can be used. Since the technology offers healthier places to live and work, it means that the overall quality of life is significantly improved (Australia Unlimited, 2008). This includes increased life expectancy levels, increased levels of happiness and reduced incidences of illnesses.
Environmentally, the benefits of using the SolarWindow technology are enormous. One benefit is the reduction in pollution which includes water, soil, air and light. According to Levitan (2012), the use of solar energy which is classified as renewable energy means that there is no need in the use of electricity generated from non-renewable sources such as coal, diesel and water. These modes of generation usually result in different types of pollution and thus this technology is capable of checking that. Also, it will lead to reduced consumption of natural resources. The overdependence on fossil fuels such as coal and oil has led to the significant depletion of these resources. This has in turn led to the increase in the prices of fossil fuels such as oil. However, by using the SolarWindow technology, buildings would be energy-efficient and thus reduce the strain on the natural resources. In addition, the use of fossil fuels has led to increased levels of GHG emissions which have resulted in global warming. Utilizing this technology would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, using the transparent SolarWindow technology would restore and conserve natural resources as well as protect and enhance ecosystems and biodiversity (Levitan, 2012).
Increased economic, social and environmental concerns have created the urgency for sustainability. In order to have sustainable economies, various aspects have to be made sustainable. The most crucial is environmental sustainability. Environmental degradation has seen countries incur huge costs as they seek to cut down on emissions. One key area that can be addressed in order to achieve sustainability is the building industry. Sustainable buildings are increasingly becoming necessary in the wake of limited resources. This calls for sustainable building technologies that can guarantee energy efficiency, water efficiency among other requirements. A suitable sustainable building technology that can assist in this endeavor is the use of the SolarWindow, a technology that enables windows to generate solar energy without having to cloud the view. SolarWindow provides a simpler alternative in that it is sprayed with an eco-friendly film that generates electricity, to produce energy. This technology brings with it a number of potential economic, social and environmental benefits that are desirable when it comes to sustainable homes. As such, this is a sustainable technology that can be quite useful in the Australian building industry.
Australia Unlimited. (2008) The Australian Green Building Industry. Green Building Council Australia, 2008, pp. 1-7.
Clark, D. (2011) Incentives for Sustainable Buildings in Australia: A Designer’s Perspective. Melbourne: Sinclair Knight Merz.
Dailey, J. (2011) SolarWindow with Clear Spray-On Film Could Generate 300% More Energy than Solar Panels. Inhabitat, 2011. Retrieved from http://inhabitat.com/solarwindow- with-clear-spray-on-film-could-generate-300-more-energy-than-solar-panels/
Levitan, D. (2012) Will Solar Windows Transform Buildings to Energy Producers? Environment360, 2012. Retrieved from http://e360.yale.edu/feature/will_solar_windows_transform_buildings_to_energy_produc ers/2524/
New Energy Technologies. (2013) SolarWindow: Clearly Electric. Retrieved from http://www.newenergytechnologiesinc.com/technology/solarwindow